Although in some parts of the United States, businesses are starting to open again, COVID-19 is still a threat, and life hasn’t returned to pre-pandemic normalcy. The measures necessary to prevent the spread of the virus create physical distancing that makes effective communication tenuous.
Many people are working remotely and may be doing so well into 2021. Other employees have returned to work environments practicing virus containment protocols like mask wearing, limiting the number of people in the office, and closing common areas. Information that was once exchanged by a chance encounter in the hall, or during a conversation over lunch in the cafeteria doesn’t happen anymore, impeded by masks and physical separation.
Multiple studies indicate that people use a variety of methods to communicate in addition to the spoken word, for example facial expressions, hand movements, and tone of voice. Some of these studies claim that up to 80% of communication is non-verbal, so physical separation adds a thick extra layer of complexity to human relations. Reading these statistics sparked a thought for me, “How can I be a more effective communicator while physically separated from other people?”
I turned to what I have learned through studying Emotional Intelligence, the so-called “soft skills” fundamental to excellent relationships. The 25 competencies of Emotional Intelligence are divided into two broad categories: personal and social. Basically, know thyself, and be aware of others.
I brought this question into the Ingenious Women Idea Lab, a group I lead which is a think tank for business growth through personal development. We looked at the question through the lens of the social competencies as outlined by emotional intelligence and came up with techniques to use for better communication in socially distant times.
Whether you are communicating on video, on the phone or in written form, a few simple practices will make communication easier, save you time, energy and potentially headaches.
- Make an extra effort to look others in the eye. Notice the subtle difference in eye color and shape of everyone you meet.
- When wearing a mask, exaggerate friendly facial expressions, like a broad smile.
- Modulate your voice. Speak loudly and clearly so others don’t have to strain to hear you. Be aware of your tone and cadence.
- Pay attention to your body language. What are you communicating with your body? Pay attention to how others are holding themselves.
- Take steps to engage more. Ask a question to allow people to talk about themselves. Ask yourself a question about the person to humanize them.
- When on a video call, frame yourself so that people can see your hands. (And maybe spend some time learning about how hand gestures communicate emotion.)
We all agreed, at the end of the conversation, that these techniques are relevant and supportive of great relationships whether we are socially distant or not. The ingenious businessperson who puts time and effort into practicing the social competencies of emotional intelligence now will see positive benefits during social distancing that will continue as life returns to normal.